Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie this year is a varied field of veteran stars, split evenly between a trio playing well-known real life—but very different—icons like Billie Holiday, Anita Hill and Marcia Clark and a trio of well-drawn fictional characters who seem absolutely authentic. Two of them are previous Emmy winners, one is a perennial bridesmaid—having been nominated five years in a row for different roles—and one is a first-timer, joining 2014’s Miniseries winner, Fargo. Here’s the rundown.

Kirsten Dunst
Fargo
FX

Joining the FX adaptation of the Oscar-winning movie Fargo in its second season, Dunst managed to make a strong mark on the show as Peggy Blumquist, and already won the Critics Choice Award and a Golden Globe nomination for her efforts. She stands a good chance of adding an Emmy to her haul, as the intriguing and tricky performance immediately won critics over and nearly stole the show this time around.

Felicity Huffman
American Crime
ABC

Huffman won an Emmy nomination last year in a different role on this ABC crime series, and now has been recognized again for her completely unique performance as Leslie Graham. Acclaim aside, there wasn’t nearly the buzz for the show this season that there was when it first premiered, and she has to compete against co-star Lili Taylor, which could lead to a split vote. Fortunately the always-great Huffman has an Emmy already for Desperate Housewives.

Audra McDonald
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
HBO

Re-creating one of her record-busting six-Tony-Award winning performances, McDonald, already an Emmy winner for Sweeney Todd, is aiming for a second statuette in her deservedly acclaimed one-woman show focusing on the great blues singer Billie Holiday. Her only drawback might be that voters will feel she has already been duly rewarded.

Sarah Paulson
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
FX

Paulson has been nominated for an Emmy now in each of the past five years, and each time for a completely different role, beginning with her Nicolle Wallace in Game Change. The only thing these roles have in common is that she managed to lose every time. She is going for her first win now as Marcia Clark, the prosecuting attorney, who has given her public blessing to Paulson’s performance. In fact they just appeared together at a FX Emmy campaign event Monday night. That kind of positive connection between real and reel life  may help finally do the trick.

Lili Taylor
American Crime
ABC

In Season 1 we didn’t see much of Taylor, but in the second season—playing a working-class mother dealing with the horrible reality of her son’s sexual assault—she practically dominates the proceedings with a powerful, Emmy-worthy performance. The only drawback, as with Huffman, is that the co-stars have to compete against each other.

Kerry Washington
Confirmation
HBO

Twice-nominated for her D.C. set series Scandal, Washington’s third Emmy nomination comes for another project set in the nation’s capital, but in this case it’s all true. She plays Anita Hill, the woman who stood up to Clarence Thomas during his hearing for a seat on the Supreme Court with an accusation of sexual assault. Unlike the take-charge Olivia Pope, this time Washington skillfully and powerfully underplays it, and delivers an effective portrait of Hill in the HBO movie.

PETE’S PICK: Sarah Paulson in a nail biter of a competitive category.


Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Series Or Movie

With the O.J. Simpson limited series failing to play here, FX still grabs three of the six slots for their other minis, where, as usual, there are multiple nominees from the otherwise flailing American Horror Story: Hotel. Kathy Bates, a past winner for a different role in the same series, is once again nominated, showing the love and respect voters have for this much-rewarded star, who has 14 nominations overall. And, lo and behold, Sarah Paulson has also grabbed her usual nomination, playing two distinct characters this time around on the same show.

Not to be outdone is Jean Smart, grabbing her eighth overall nomination against three wins, this time for Fargo. Adding to the veteran vibe in the category is one of 2013’s winners, Melissa Leo, back in the race as Lady Bird Johnson in HBO’s All the Way. Then consider the fact that American Crime’s Regina King—the surprise champ here last year—is back in a new role on the series. The only first time nominee is the sensational UK import Olivia Colman, as the woman out to bring Hugh Laurie’s arms dealing business to a halt in The Night Manager.

PETE’S PICK: Olivia Colman. First time’s the charm against a strong veteran lineup of actresses.

Olivia Colman - The Night Manager.jpeg

This post was originally published August 16, 2016.